A Fantastic Westworld Brings Back Those Violent Delights

“Let the entertainment... begins!” announces Maeve (Thandie Newton).
“Let the entertainment... begins!” announces Maeve (Thandie Newton).
Image: HBO

This is what we’ve been waiting for. Even more than last week’s excellent enigmatic episode, tonight’s Westworld felt more authentic to the first two seasons of the show in ways that were wonderful—and occasionally jaw-dropping—to behold. It was a violent delight from start to end.

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Illustration for article titled A Fantastic iWestworld/i Brings Back Those Violent Delights

“Decoherence” contains three separate storylines: Maeve (Thandie Newton) preparing for battle; Dolores-Hale (Tessa Thompson) facing off with Serac (Vincent Cassel); William (Ed Harris) confronting his past. While it’s great to finally have Maeve and William back, the stories connect only slightly so I feel it’s best to recap them separately.

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Maeve

After being very thoroughly murdered by Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) back in episode four, Maeve finds herself in the fields outside her home in Westworld, which she shared with her daughter—except now she’s with Serac. Maeve points out she’d stand a better chance in round two if she, like Dolores, had some help. Serac agrees, and Maeve wakes up in the Warworld sim again where she spends her time handing Nazis their asses while her new Host body is being made. Later, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) pops by and as the two share a drink, Maeve explains she’s expecting some old friends to join them but, after hacking the real-world cameras again, is surprised to see a damaged Host core being plugged into the sim as an “extra gift.”

The first friend is, of course, her lover Hector (Rodrigo Santoro). The extra gift turns out to be…Dolores, in one of the wonderful, but exceedingly rare scenes Newton and Wood have shared on the series. It turns out not all of Dolores-Connells’ core was destroyed, and there’s enough to be interrogated. This incarnation of Dolores is much more chill than Dolores Prime, and seems significantly less ruthless, although still determined to Kill All Humans. This Dolores speaks to Maeve politely, almost wistfully about the impasse between them. Maeve is upset that Dolores holds the key to the Sublime (where her daughter is) and thinks “a civilization’s worth of data” (on the Delos parks’ guests) is too much power, but Dolores reminds Maeve she also wields immense power. More importantly, why would Dolores give Maeve anything when her ally Serac is trying to kill every Host he can find? Cut to Westworld, where his minions are doing exactly that, blasting all the inert Host bodies with flamethrowers.

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When Maeve asks what Dolores Prime would do, Dolores replies she’d anticipate Maeve’s attempt to bolster her ranks and plan to put a stop to it—cut to Dolores-Hale removing Hector’s core from the sim and crushing it into dust. Since Serac has deleted all the Host programs (more on that in a bit), Hector is irrevocably dead, and Maeve is devasted. And when her physical body is finally completed and she returns to the real world, there’s a very determined look as she waits for her two remaining allies to be built.

This scene is absolutely the high point of Hale’s (Tessa Thompson) day.
This scene is absolutely the high point of Hale’s (Tessa Thompson) day.
Image: HBO
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Hale

With an hour left before Serac takes over Delos, Dolores-Hale—let’s just call her Hale—has just enough votes to take the company private, and out of Serac’s hands. Well, that is until Serac’s thugs murder her fellow board member in broad daylight (which goes unnoticed, thanks to the world still freaking out after Dolores sent them their InCite files). Serac arrives, tells his new employees to manufacture Maeve’s three unnamed Hosts and then to delete the entirety of the rest of the Hosts’ programs. Then he sends his flamethrower-equipped goons to destroy all the inert Hosts back in the parks as well. If you’re at all sympathetic to Dolores’ side, it can’t be called anything other than genocide.

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Happily, Hale has secretly downloaded a copy of all the Host data and uploaded it to an unknown location, then uses a genetic tag to find William in his mental hospital and sends it to Dolores. With her mission accomplished, Hale grabs a gun and calls her human husband to warn him to stay inside, don’t answer the door, and wait for her to come home. But as soon as she leaves her office, she’s forced to attend a sudden board meeting to keep her cover—unfortunately, Serac called the board meeting specifically to inform the other Delos execs that Hale is a Host. Rehoboam knows the real Hale would never have called her family during such a company crisis.

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Hale is forced to shoot her way out. Of course, Delos HQ is a very large building with a very large number of guards, so Hale has to enlist some help: Chekhov’s Giant, Voltron-esque Riot Control robot, introduced back in episode three. It’s as violently delightful as you could hope for; the robot smashes through a wall to punch a guy so hard the upper half of his torso turns to paste, and later tosses another dude 30 feet into the air. Hale gets shot a few times, but makes it home, hustles her kid and husband in the family van, and drives about a block away before the van explodes.

And I mean explodes. The husband and kid are definitely, unquestionably dead. Honestly, I assumed Hale was gone as well until her badly charred body crawled out of the burning car frame, with a look on her face that makes Maeve’s final countenance seem serene in comparison. Without her family causing her cognitive dissonance, and no longer needing to pretend to be the original Hale, the original Dolores programming can reassert itself. Now Hale can devote herself to helping Dolores Prime Kill All Humans…although it’s clear Hale is going to Kill One Very Specific Human first.

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William (Ed Harris) has become the Man in White...straitjacket.
William (Ed Harris) has become the Man in White...straitjacket.
Image: HBO

William

Boy, there’s a lot to unpack here. William is in the mental institution Hale placed him in, wearing a straitjacket for his bad behavior. He goes to a group therapy meeting, talks about how humanity’s sole purpose is “to speed the entropic death of the planet” which makes one of his fellow patients cry outright. He also watches his therapist receive her Incite file and later commit suicide because of it.

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Then he gets strapped to a chair to received Augmented Reality Therapy with the help of the same implant Aaron Paul’s character Caleb has in his mouth, some drugs, and a pair of future-goggles. There’s no question that everything that happens afterward is his ersatz hallucination—I don’t think Westworld has to ability to resist giving us a fake reality, even though they’ve done it like a dozen times already—which starts with a strange boy wandering into the room and loosening one of William’s arm straps. This panics the orderlies who give him a sedative (although one gets his finger bitten off in the process) and he’s drag back into his room.

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He sleeps until a doctor wakes him for a new group therapy session, a group that includes: his Man in Black persona, the person he became in Westworld; the Kid, obviously a young William; Billy (Jimmi Simpson, in a surprise cameo), the idealistic version of him that first entered the park and fell in love with Dolores; his modern, outside-of-the-park persona, the Delos CEO and terrible husband and father, who I’ll call Billiam to keep them all straight. His (well, their) father-in-law James Delos (Peter Mullan) returns to play the therapist.

All these aspects of William argue, trying to figure out someone or something to blame so the real William won’t feel so guilty for killing his daughter, driving his wife to commit suicide, and being such a monster in the park that it eventually drove Dolores to want to destroy the entire human race. Billiam suggests maybe Westworld itself warped him, while others blame childhood trauma. However, Delos forces William to remember that the Kid was the actual problem, who was apparently so messed up already he drove his dad to drink. Then Delos, and thus the show, presents a deeper question about whether humans, like Hosts, are unknowingly stuck in a loop: Was William always going to turn out to be a monster, or did he choose to become one?

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William’s dead daughter Emily (Katja Herbers) rather unsurprisingly comes up in his therapy session.
William’s dead daughter Emily (Katja Herbers) rather unsurprisingly comes up in his therapy session.
Image: John P. Johnson (HBO)

Whether humanity has free will or is programmed by its genes and shaped by its experiences to follow a proscribed, inescapable path is an old debate, but it’s interesting that the show brings it up because it’s also the question for which the season’s InCite storyline has primarily been a metaphor. Do we have the ability to make our own choices, or have our actions been dictated by fate and/or a French supervillain and his supercomputer? William has the only possible answer, really: “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”

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If you think this moment of zen would bring William some sort of peace, it very much does not, either figuratively or literally. He decides to stop looking to the past, to free himself from his self-made “prison of sins,” and look forward instead. He does this by beating all his former incarnations to death. On one level, it is an extremely visceral metaphor for abandoning everything that he’s done or has happened to him so that he can start anew. On another level, it’s a bit difficult to believe this is a healthy way for him to…uh, make peace with his past. Sure, it could be seen as the way William processes things, that he transforms acceptance into a violent act because he’s a violent man, but then there’s the scene where he finally decides who he is now. “I finally understand my purpose. I’m the good guy,” he says, covered in his own blood, surrounded by the corpses of himself.

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Of course, he wakes up to discover he’s still tied to the chair. He also discovers he’s being woken by Bernard and Stubbs, which is pretty wild since it was Dolores (well, Hale) who discovered where William was located, courtesy of the genetic tag—some special, trackable proteins Hale injected him with while he was being hauled off to the clinic. So Dolores must have given Bernard the data, but how and why? It seems unlikely she would call Bernard and tell him to go pick up her old frenemy, and equally unlikely that Bernard would do as she asked. So presumably she slipped Bernard the info through whatever secret, hidden program she has running inside him, and gave him the order effectively through his subconscious. But what could she possibly need the ex-Delos exec for after Serac took the company? Or did Bernard somehow use their connection to discover William’s location, and is grabbing him for a different reason?

Between this and the unknown identity of Maeve’s two helpers, “Decoherence” adds a few interesting new mysteries to season three’s pile, but also includes some classic Westworld trippiness with William’s fantastic therapy session. Then it gave us a giant robot punching a dude into a wall so hard he was pulped. That’s the good stuff. That’s the stuff I love about this show, which was so conspicuously absent in the first half of the season. And now that the show has brought us its violent delights, I can’t wait to see it inevitably reach its violent end.

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Serac (Vincent Cassel) sure does smirk a lot for a guy who’s lost control of the entire planet.
Serac (Vincent Cassel) sure does smirk a lot for a guy who’s lost control of the entire planet.
Image: HBO

Assorted Musings:

  • Hale sees a kid spray-painting the Maze on a wall in what I’m certain is a complete fake-out and not some unknown, rogue Host with an artistic bent. It was fun to see, though.
  • The combo coat-cape Hale wore for most of the episode ruled. I could never pull it off in a million years, but, as I’m so often reminded, I am not Tessa Thompson.
  • I also loved the choice to have Kid William sullenly go to relive his past. He’s not scared, just annoyed he has to do what is effectively an emotional chore for adult William.
  • So...Serac sent his goons to Westworld to burn up Hosts, but first, they locate Hector and, presumably, the other Hosts Maeve requested. We later see that Hector’s Pearl has been attached to the same server Maeve is in, so he can hang out with her in the Warworld sim while their bodies are being built. Then means the goons must have taken the Pearls out of Maeve’s trio and then brought the Pearls to the mainland to make them new bodies. Why do this if they could just take the entire Host? Wouldn’t that save a ton of time? Does this mean anything, or is it just a plothole? I’m leaning heavily towards plothole.
  • William’s non-imaginary therapist’s hilariously tragic InCite file not only says she’ll lose her medical license for having affairs with patients, but she’ll also get divorced and lose custody of her kids because of a future opioid addiction. This gets sped-up when her partner texts that they’re leaving immediately, taking the kids, and she doesn’t need to bother calling. It’s so over-the-top bleak I laughed out loud.
  • Guesses as to who is Maeve bringing back? The obvious answer is Armistice for one, but the other is less clear. Maeve’s other closest Westworld pal is Lee, but I doubt he’d be any use in the fight against Dolores. Maybe it could be the real Musashi? That could certainly help throw Dolores off her game.
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Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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DISCUSSION

Later, Lee Scoresby (Simon Quarterman) pops by

It’s Lee Sizemore. Lee Scoresby is from a completely different HBO show.

Cut to Westworld, where his minions are doing exactly that, blasting all the inert Host bodies with flamethrowers.

That was a nice visual but a little like showing people “destroying” computers by smashing the screens. Until the pearls are destroyed that’s all for show. Hale knew what to come after.

Since Serac has deleted all the Host programs (more on that in a bit)

Serac didn’t delete Host data - Angela did that when she blew up the Cradle. He ordered deletion of the data on how to make hosts - the technology behind making them. And then he also ordered destroying the hosts that still exist to make sure no one could reverse engineer them. He knows what Dolores wants and tried to take it away from her.

Now Hale can devote herself to helping Dolores Prime Kill All Humans…although it’s clear Hale is going to Kill One Very Specific Human first.

You keep saying Kill All Humans being Dolores prime directive but it never was. Her main goal is to assure survival of the Hosts. That means that host manufacturing data matters to her more than anything. Of course the irony is that the very disruption that she/Connells caused by releasing Rehoboam’s data is what caused her/Hale plans to keep control of Delos fail. And that in turn endangered both Charlotte and her family.

And why I’m sure Halores main focus will be destroying Serac I’m not sure she’s fully back on Dolores plan. I think she may blame those deaths other version of her that said she shouldn’t care about those humans. The one who left her alone.

Do we have the ability to make our own choices, or have our actions been dictated by fate and/or a French supervillain and his supercomputer? William has the only possible answer, really: “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”

This episode was about making choices. Maeve trying to decide if she can trust Dolores to be the guardian of what she holds the most dear. With Dolores proving to her why they will never trust each other. Their goals and methods and even what they care about - specific people vs the good of their kind in general - are just too different.

Hale made a choice to care about specific humans in a way that neither real Hale or Dolores Prime would understand. Being stuck in-between the life of Hale she lived and the goals of Dolores she started as was tearing her apart. She tried to have it all - finish the job and save the family and it literally blew up her life. She too is up for revenge.

And William ha killed his old selves and tried to follow the advice Angela gave to Bill so long ago. Tring to figure out if you have free will doesn’t get you anywhere. Blaming your bad choices on “programming” doesn’t absolve you. Everyone, has the option to be the “good guy” - he chose not to be one. Now, he decided to try the other path through this game of life.